BURLINGTON, Ky. -- The disc golf course at Idlewild Park in Boone County is ready for its closeup.
For the past few months, volunteers and county parks department workers have replaced baskets, cut down dead trees, replaced wooden benches with steel ones and generally spruced up the course in preparation for the Idlewild Open this weekend (Aug. 17-19).
For the first time this year, the Open is a stop on the Disc Golf Pro Tour. That means many of the sport's biggest names have signed up to compete, including Paul McBeth, a four-time Professional Disc Golf Association World Champion.
"I'm excited and nervous, you name it," said Adam Jones, president of the Greater Cincinnati Flying Disc Association and owner of The Nati, a disc golf shop inside the disc golf course at Mount Airy Forest. "I'm hoping it will be a regular spot on the tour."
Better known as Frisbee golf, disc golf is scored just like regular ball golf, but played by tossing plastic discs. Instead of holes, the goals are baskets.
With its long, twisting fairways through the woods, Idlewild is known among disc golf fanatics as one of the toughest courses around, and also one of the most scenic. Disc Golf Scene rates it No. 6 in the nation.
It's also one of the few great courses that's public -- no fees required to play.
The course was designed by Crescent Springs resident Fred Salaz and Amberley Village resident Bob Herbert, both of them longtime participants in the local disc golf scene. Salaz was inducted into the Disc Golf Hall of Fame in 2007.
They essentially relocated an 18-hole course from Limaburg Road that the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport took in the late '90s for runway expansion. In exchange, the airport donated property a few miles to the west, which became Idlewild.
Herbert, who now works at the Kenwood Country Club, has been involved with ball golf courses since he was 8. His vision for Idlewild was to make it like a ball golf course, with a mix of par 4 and par 5 holes, and only a few par 3s. Most disc golf courses are all par 3s, he said.
Working from ideas hand-drawn on an aerial map, they set to work clearing fairways out of dense forest with hand tools. Salaz carted in thousands of concrete cores from a Cincinnati testing company to shore up creek banks.
The park hadn't opened yet, and there were no roads through it. For about a year, they would park on state Route 338, hop the fence and walk to the worksite.
"Idlewild was like a jungle when we first started, with vines everywhere," Salaz said. "Old farm equipment and appliances were strewn throughout the park … lots of briars, too."
Hundreds of other volunteers helped clear the course, Salaz said. All the loving care gave Idlewild "a unique and professional look," he said, "Usually not seen in an average disc golf course."
The course's most interesting holes include No. 11, which requires players to throw the disc through the "Y" formed by a large tree's branches. "We hope that tree stays alive," Herbert said. "The one on 11 takes quite a beating from discs."
There's also No. 15, a par 5. At 1,000 feet, it's hard for an average player to even reach the green in four tosses. It's even more difficult because on either side of the fairway is a thick, 5-foot-tall rough of briars and wildflowers, into which many discs run away and hide.
Salaz and Herbert both agree that No. 6, also known as the Daniel Boone Trail, is the toughest on the course. It snakes uphill through the forest for 588 feet. It will get even tougher for the tournament, when it drops from a par 5 to a par 4.
Salaz's favorite hole is No. 3, which requires players to toss the disc across a walking path, into the woods and across a creek. He buried his dog there after it was hit by a car, he said. He plans to have his own ashes scattered on the course, probably on hole No. 3.
The course opened in 2000 with 18 holes, most of them to the west of the park's largest pond.
The men had planned to build another 18 holes on the other side of the pond, to make an easy course for beginners. That idea was abandoned after the county built nearby Boone Woods Park, and a beginner course was built in it.
About five years ago, Salaz added six more holes to Idlewild, most of them on the east side of the pond. They include one where players must toss through a narrow gap in some trees and over a small, algae-filled pond where turtles sun themselves on partly submerged logs.
Both men plan to compete in this weekend's tournament, which is open to the public and free for spectators.
Salaz is eager to see how the top players will play certain holes. He feels honored to have them playing on the course he helped design and build.
Although at 57 he's not the player he once was, Herbert said he wouldn't miss this weekend for anything.
"I'm thrilled that we're finally going to have a big tournament," Herbert said. "The course has been in play 17 years now … we really haven't had a huge tournament."
For more info on the Idlewild Open, go to the website here.